So how do we bring awareness into action and learn to ‘be’ at work—while still getting the job done?
One of the biggest misunderstandings in our line of work is when people think that practicing techniques such as mindfulness and meditation can only happen in one’s personal time and if anyone tries it out at work they’ll either get laughed at, or fired for time-wasting! Nothing could be further from the truth. These techniques can be integrated into a working day without taking out time from essential tasks and will actually add to our focus, productivity, ability to think creatively and well-being. Companies such as Google, Starbucks, IBM, Apple and Yahoo run in-house programmes for their staff and mindfulness and meditation is now widely taught and practiced in schools, hospitals, prisons and among a variety of professional disciplines.
Consider this quotation from Daniel Goleman, the architect of Emotional Intelligence:
I think there is a very large amount of conversion data on meditation across all brands and all varieties. There is a generic benefit, largely because it helps people get into a parasympathetic nervous system state, which is restorative as the body's recuperative mode, as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system, which gets us into the stress-arousal system. I think that if you are a daily meditator, you let your body get into a way of being that it can reconstitute itself instead of being driven over the edge by constant stress arousal.
The highlighted section is mine. I wanted to draw attention to this aspect of meditation as an anti-dote to burn-out. Stress is an increasingly large factor for working people in Japan, the US and western Europe costing large amounts of money on lost working days, and medical care. Here Goleman is talking about the positive effects of the body but the mind benefits if anything, even more through the regular practice of meditation.
Here is a quotation from an article by Colin Allen published in Psychology Today 1 April 2003:
Neuroscientists have found that meditators shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex - brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex. This mental shift decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety. There is also less activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear.
Neuroscientists find meditators shift brain waves from the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex
So meditation works on the source of stress as well as its manifestation in the body. Which employer would not want that for their staff? A work team that can incorporate meditation practice into their working day is going to be less stressed and more productive because of it.
One simple idea is to initiate short sessions of sitting meditation at the beginning and end of all meetings. Instead of time spent shuffling papers and catching up on gossip, a few moments of silence will allow people to arrive at the meeting and bring their attention to what they are about to do. How often does a meeting take time to get going while everyone is trying to pull their attention from their own agenda to focus on the group agenda? Mediation provides a simple way to bring everyone together and help them become present to what needs to be done. In the same way, at the end of a meeting a few moments of sitting will help provide closure in an atmosphere of harmony and give a pause before the next set of tasks.
On an individual level there are many times in any working day when you can take a couple of moments to bring your attention back to your breath and re-focus your attention. Take an extra few moments in the cloakroom, walk from one work area to another a little more slowly, choose to drink your coffee by yourself—you’ll be able to think of lots of opportunities in your working day. The trick is to make use of them, to remember to make a few spare moments into time for meditation and not to just let the time float by. No-one need ever know you are taking time for meditation.